I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies: 1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3.Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
As someone well over 35 when Twitter appeared, I struggled not to see it as ‘against the natural order of things’, but Douglas Adams’s insight is a valuable warning against the blind spots we acquire with age. I joined Twitter a month ago and it’s been interesting and fun. My fogeyish fears about the medium have proved largely misplaced. Instead I’ve discovered it’s very good for hearing about distant friends and acquaintances and getting a glimpse of what’s happening for them. It’s a particular pleasure to read about places and people where I’ve worked freelance and see how they’re getting on now.
It’s also good for for meeting new people who share some of my interests and values. I’ve been discovering all sorts of things that would have passed me by – conferences, publications, events etc. I have a growing list of web links to follow up when I have some time for reading. There’s already a huge list of books to read but, hey, I might live long enough to catch up with them all…
The tweets from @womensart1, @openculture, @historyinmoment and @SovietVisuals bring unexpected and eye-opening delights. Someone advised me to follow @EastLondonGroup and so I’ve discovered lots of work by these little known mid-20th century artists. The images from @PastPostcard, accompanied only by the text from the card in question, make art of life, as these unassuming messages become tiny stories.
While all this is going on though, there is also a furious argument about whether the UK should remain a member of the EU. I’ve watched a torrent of passionate opinion rage past, like a river too full for its banks. I have strong views about this myself: personal history, experience and beliefs convince me that cooperation is always better than isolation, even more when we face grave problems. But I’ve said little about it on Twitter because I don’t see anyone listening. Instead, there’s rhetoric, anger, distress and worse: watching tweets about last night’s BBC Debate I was reminded of the artillery barrages flung across the trenches of the Western Front.
Twitter is good for many things – being in touch, remembering, discovering, making friends and more. But it’s probably not good for developing an argument or persuading anyone to see something from another point of view.
But it’s okay – we have art for that. Art can make us slow down, be, empathise, feel, experience, understand and so much more. That’s why it really matters that everyone is able to make and share it, as they can with social media. Twitter is great, but we need art to reach us where it can’t.